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Paddy Sullivan - Part 1

Paddy was born to John and Molly Sullivan, in the spring of 1919.

John owned a small holding in County Leitrim, in the Valley of the Black Pig, a depressed and desolate area in the west of Ireland, with a dwindling population, as the young men and women, deserted the county.

The farm had been in his family since pre-Famine days, and, sad to say, the land had not improved much in the years that followed.

John, tried to eke out a living from its stone crusted, barren fields, choked by thistles and ragweed.

He owned a couple of cows, an ageing arthritic plough horse, and a one-eyed Wicklow collie, called Captain, but try as he could to improve the lot of his small family, this was a place where, all endeavours and aspirations, were dashed away, by the incessant wind and rain, from the Atlantic Ocean

As Paddy grew older and finished school, he was drafted in to help his desperate and almost broken father.

The years drifted by, and he, was now a young man, tall and slim with a shock of tousled black hair and smiling, soft brown eyes,

One day in the spring of 1938 his father asked him to tackle the horse, go to the hill field, and clear it, in preparation for the sowing of the potato crop.

In the early morning frost, Paddy began his task, and as he followed the horse and plough, around the field, they passed the Hawthorn tree, in the middle of the field, surrounded by a yellow ring of cowslips and standing stones.

It was said, they were for the protection of the fairies living below.

The local people, who were steeped in the folk lore, of this ancient country, said, the tree, had stood there for centuries, and was the home of the fairies, who, had descended from the magical, and mysterious, Tuatha De Danan, that inhabited Ireland, in the far-off misty past, before being driven underground, with the coming of the Celts.

And legend had it, that, whosoever, violates the sanctity of the fairy tree, or cuts it down, will suffer great and terrible misfortune.

But to Paddy, this was all due to superstition, and ignorance , and had no place in the modern Ireland.

And so, whether by accident or design, in his attempt to clear the field.

Paddy cut it down.

“ And to hell with the consequences” he said, as he turned the horse and headed home.

But as he was about to leave the field, an unsettling feeling came over him, and Captain began to growl, his hackles rising on his back, in primordial fear.

As Paddy was a pragmatist, with a cool head and a rational mind, he just shrugged his shoulders and walked on.

But he did not notice an elfish figure, hiding in a nearby, holly bush, gazing at him, with burning, vengeful, eyes.

When Paddy reached his twentieth year in 1939, an uneasy, restlessness came into his soul, and he felt he had to leave this god forsaken place and seek far away, greener fields, where no ragweed or hawthorn grew.

But for some time, he had watched, and admired, the inviting and enthralling Catherine Cooney, who came from a farm, across the fields.

She in turn had watched him, but, because of his reticent, and unsure, nature, no meeting between them had ever occurred.

Eventually, growing tired of watching, she emigrated to Boston.

But then in a land, far away from Leitrim, an event took place that was to change his life forever.

On Friday the first of September, in the year, nineteen, thirty-nine, Adolph Hitler, the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany, invaded Poland.

By the, Sunday, of that momentous, weekend, both Britain and France, had declared war on, Nazi Germany.

A great and terrible war had begun, and it was to send the world into the depths of abominable, human depravity, that would cost the lives of millions.

Ironically, this great tragedy was the catalyst that was to spur Paddy on, and free him from his bondage.

He told his parents that he had decided to go to England and join the R.A.F. to fight the war in Europe, which in his mind, was a chance to spread his wings, so to say!

On hearing this, his father flew into a rage, for, having fought in the War of Independence, he saw this as a traitorous act, and many a bitter word was spoken.

Paddy kissed his broken-hearted mother goodbye, and holding her in his arms, swore to her he would return one day.

With tears running down her weary cheeks, and love in her sad eyes, she reached into her apron pocket and handed him her rosary beads, saying that if ever he felt unsafe or troubled, he was to hold them, say a quick prayer, and everything would be alright.

Although Paddy, was not a believer, he loved her for this simple act of faith, and promised, he would always treasure them, and would always, hold her in his heart

He turned to his father, but his father walked away, without so much as a word or a backward glance.

With a heavy stone in his heart, Patrick walked down the road, and waited for the bus that would take him to Dublin.

That night he boarded a steamer at the North Wall and left for Liverpool. He stood on the deck of the ship as it sailed out through Dublin Bay, and looked back at the receding lights of Dublin.

He was not to know, that he would never return.

It was a long overnight sailing to Liverpool, and as he was emotionally drained by his leaving, he took a berth below decks, with the intention of having a good night’s sleep, in preparation for another long journey by train, the next morning

A storm had suddenly risen, and the ship was beginning to roll sickeningly from side to side, with all the promise of worse to come.

He had never been on a ship before, and this experience was entirely alien to him, and he felt a terrible longing for home and the stony, green fields of Leitrim.

He tried to sleep, but the thundering, noise of the waves, crashing against the creaking hull of the ship, kept him awake, and he had an unsettling feeling that he was not alone in the cabin, and that something of pure evil was watching him from the darkness.

But eventually, fatigue overcame him, and he drifted into a troubled sleep.

By morning, the storm had abated , and as he stood on the deck, waiting to disembark, he got his first sight of Liverpool, and England, and thought of his father, wondering, to himself, what all that trouble had been about.

Then he stepped ashore

In the early morning dawn, he took the London train, and after a long uncomfortable, five-hour journey, arrived, exhausted and hungry, in that grey and shell-shocked city.

Never again would things be the same for this great metropolis that once ruled an empire.

Part Two

He applied for pilot training and after many demanding examinations, was accepted into the R.A.F and eight months later, he received his pilot officer wings, and was immediately transferred to Bomber Command.

The bombing of Nazi Germany had been in progress for two years and was now reaching its zenith, and desperately needed new crews, to replace those, lost in battle.

Patrick went through four weeks of training, in the iconic Lancaster Bomber, before being assigned his own aircraft and crew.

As nervous as he was on his first mission, he had a great feeling of intense excitement, as he guided this great machine through the dark night skies of war-torn Germany.

But the euphoria soon wore off as they reached their assigned target, of Hamburg.

The cities defence structure, of massive anti – aircraft guns, and blinding searchlights, sent terror, through the inexperienced crew.

As, thousands of ack-ack shells, exploded around the aircraft, sending thousands of white-hot, pieces of metal, into the sky around them, the bombardier, released their deadly bombs on the blazing city below, then, Paddy banked the plane and turned for home, leaving death and destruction, behind them, and a heaviness in his heart.

On nights when the weather was bad, their planes grounded, and their mission cancelled, the flight crews would head off to the local pub, for a night of revelry, to relieve the tension, and battle stress, they were suffering daily,

It was the military code, that officers, were not allowed to fraternize with their crew, when not on a mission.

But Paddy was of the Irish way, and not that kind of officer.

He felt that, as they all faced the same dangers, every night, his place was with them.

And for this reason, he had won the undying loyalty, and respect, of his men.

So, on these nights, Paddy, and his crew would head off, to a pub called “The Coach and Horses” near the base, and drink their watered down pints of beer, sing their songs and tell their “Gallows Humour” jokes, about death in the skies.

The pub was usually thronged with airmen, on these nights, except for several empty chairs, reserved for the men and friends, who had not returned from their bombing missions.

No matter how full the place was, nobody ever sat on these chairs, and heaven help you, if you did.

Part 3

On one of these nights, in nineteen, forty, four, he met a young woman, a girl really.........

PART 3 WILL CONCLUDE TOMORROW............. Johnny McEvoy

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